Padres Take Whitson, Deviate From Pre-Draft Strategy

SAN DIEGO—In the days leading up to the draft, the Padres said they were looking for athletic, middle-of-the-field players who fit well in spacious Petco Park.

Athletic center-field types like Michael Choice and Kolbrin Vitek were the names most linked to the Padres. And the organization still may go the athletic route in the later rounds.

But with the ninth pick in the draft, the Padres threw the public a curve, choosing righthander Karsten Whitson from Chipley (Fla.) High.

"We had to use a little sleight of hand, because we didn't want to tip our hand on this kid," vice president and assistant general manager Jason McLeod said. "We've been on this kid the last two and a half months."

Baseball America's scouting report reads in part: "(Whitson has) one of the draft's best secondary pitches in a hard, sharp 80-84 mph slider. The word most often associated with Whitson's slider is 'legit.' His fastball also earns praise as he can reach 95 mph regularly and pitches at 90-94."

Whitson has committed to play at Florida, but McLeod is confident the Padres can sign him quickly.

"Actually, we're in no hurry there because if he signs quickly, we wouldn't have him pitch a lot of innings this summer," McLeod said. "We saw him pitch last year for (the) Team USA (junior national team).

"He has uncanny command of his fastball. He commands both sides of the plate with life. He has gotten stronger on the year, throwing 91-96—but it's not so much velocity as location with life.

"Plus he has a mean streak. He's not afraid to come inside for effect. He's a big (6-foot-4), durable kid with a swing-and-miss breaking ball. He's driven, intelligent and disciplined."

There is an inherent risk in selecting a high school righthander in the first round. Statistically speaking, only about half of them forge big league careers. However, those who do break through often do so in a big way—witness Josh Beckett, Matt Cain, Zack Greinke, Phil Hughes and Adam Wainwright.

"Absolutely, we know this is a risk," McLeod said. "There is a risk, so we didn't enter into this lightly. But Karsten meets or exceeds everything we look for.

"Not only is he talented, but we were in his house. After speaking with him and his parents, we knew this was the type of kid we felt we could invest in."

Like most every prep standout, Whitson's high school numbers were eye-popping. He went 7-3, 0.62, while striking out 123 and walking 15 in 55 innings. He allowed just 16 hits.

"We're extremely excited to have the opportunity to add Karsten to our organization and watch him work toward his potential," scouting director Jaron Madison said.